Social Entrepreneurs on the manifestos...
Social Entrepreneurs Ireland was set up in 2007, having grown out of an initiative funded by The One Foundation. It aimed to harness 'maverick' solutions to commercial and social problems. The SEI website currently features a blog comparing major parties' manifestos with regard to social entrepreneurship. A shortened form of the article appears below, as does a link to the full text.
Social Entrepreneurs Ireland have been eagerly awaiting the candidates in Election 2011 to hit our doorsteps and tell us how social entrepreneurship is forming a key part of their campaign platform...
Of course, it hasn't happened but that's no reason to be disappointed. Because, in this election and for the first time ever social entrepreneurship has started to feature on the policy agenda in Ireland. A key objective over the last year has been to get the political parties to understand how social entrepreneurs can provide innovative, cost effective and scalable solutions to some of society's most pressing needs. Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party have published manifestos that make specific commitments to support social entrepreneurs. So let's look at these commitments in a bit more detail.
In the Fine Gael manifesto there is strong recognition for the value social entrepreneurs and social enterprises provide in tackling some of our thorniest social problems. It also recognises the need for the public service to be more open to working with social entrepreneurs in helping to address these issues. So what does it actually commit to? Fine Gael says that if in government they will ensure that the following programme will be put in place:
_ Support for social enterprises to engage in the public procurement and public sector contract opportunities, as is the case in Italy, the UK, and France
_ A strategy to support the acquisition of assets to community trusts which would assist communities to generate income, and
_ An instruction from central Government to State agencies to view social enterprises as important stakeholders in regenerating local economies
So for the many social entrepreneurs out there who have set up social enterprises (mission driven, commercially viable businesses where the majority or all of profits are reinvested in the social mission) this is big news as it could lead to many more opportunities to work with the public sector.
Turning to the Labour Party, it has also made an explicit commitment to social entrepreneurs. Labour says that "County Enterprise Boards will ... be mandated to develop a specific support package for 'start-up' Social Entrepreneurs." Unfortunately up until now much of this support has been restricted to for-profit entrepreneurs. SEI argues that giving social entrepreneurs access to such supports could accelerate their growth and impact, benefiting communities throughout Ireland. With the Labour proposal County Enterprise Boards (CEBs) could now be opened up to social entrepreneurs. Not only would social entrepreneurs gain access to the knowledge and expertise within the CEBs but SEI believes there would also be a couple of things that they could teach their for-profit cousins!
So there you have it. To date there are no specific commitments to social entrepreneurship from Fianna Fail, the Green Party or Sinn Fein. However the SEI Politics Desk will continue to monitor developments and to make the case to the incoming government for all you social entrepreneurs out there. We know that now more than ever we live in exceptional and exceptionally difficult times. But, we sign off on a note of optimism. One way in which these times and this election are exceptional is that for the first time ever in Ireland social entrepreneurship is being recognised as a powerful force for change by a number of our policy makers. We believe that this understanding of the value of social entrepreneurship will grow and we look forward to many more of our politicians and political parties developing concrete and meaningful policies supporting social entrepreneurs and the broader community and voluntary sector.